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The Computer Science Answer to Habitat for Humanity

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Research has found that giving students a sense of the usefulness of their studies to the greater world can help improve learning. For the computer sciences one way of doing this is the Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS) project. Begun at Trinity College in 2007, HFOSS has been compared to the well-known Habitat for Humanity charity, but instead of building houses for those in need, students participating in the HFOSS project build software used by humanitarian organizations, social service organizations, and disaster-response groups.

One example is the Sahana disaster-management system, which is used by organizations responding to disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis. HFOSS students help to update and expand the program in accordance with standards set out by the Sahana Software Foundation.

In addition to doing good in the world, HFOSS helps give students an experience of what work in the computer sciences is really like. Trinity computer science professor Ralph Morelli says the project helps debunk the popular stereotype of the isolated lone programmer by creating a complex, team-oriented process that requires students to collaborate and coordinate with other coders.

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